J. David Williams, Northern Illinois University

You can do a great deal about your stuttering if you want to. Many people have eliminated stuttering as a real problem in their lives, even after they stuttered for many years. These people, the ones I have known, have done certain things and have developed certain feelings and attitudes. I'll try to describe these actions and attitudes, then you decide if you want to buy the package.

I don't think anyone can tell you successfully how to stop stuttering suddenly anstudyith two options. One: you can continue as you have been doing, with all of your usual feelings and behaviors that make up your stuttering problem. Two: you can begin to change your feelings and behaviors, in whatever ways and to whatever degree necessary for you, to become happier with yourself and reduce your stuttering problem. To begin with, it's awfully helpful if you enjoy life, if you get a kick out of living even with the plague of your stuttering. The more things you are interested in, "turned on" about, provided they are not hurtful to people, the better off you are. Particularly important is a positive approach toward, a basic liking for and identification with, other people in general. A feeling that you are a member in good standing of the gang made up by the human race, with all its imperfections. An ability to appreciate the humor as well as the tragedy of life.

If you want to work on a problem you should begin by describing the problem in detail. Otherwise you won't know what you're working on or how much progress you've made. How well can you describe your total stuttering problem? Don't just think about it; write it down. Then you can look at your own words and mull them over. Exactly what are your feelings about yourself as a stutterer? How do they affect your day-to-day relationships with other people? How do you feel when you know you're going to have to speak in various situations, how do you feel when speaking (during stuttering as well as not stuttering), and how do you feel afterward? Why? What problems can you really blame on your stuttering? What behaviors does your stuttering consist of? Try to describe them without using the word "stuttering": do you tense up and struggle when you start feeling "blocked" on a word? Do you compress your lips or hold them wide open, jam your tongue in certain positions, hold your breath, shut your eyes, or what? Under what speaking conditions (situations) do you tend to do these things? When don't you do them? How much of your speaking time, on about what percentage of your words, do you not stutter? To that degree you are a normal speaker. Keep that in mind! Your job is to change your feelings and behaviors so that you will speak more of the time the way you now speak some of the time. Quite possibly you're more of a nonstutterer than you are a stutterer. Face your undesired feelings and behaviors in every way possible, confront them, describe them, talk about them. Get them out in the open where you can take a hard clear look at them and decide for yourself what needs changing. Self-confrontation can be tough, but the more you do it the easier it becomes. Avoiding a feared thing only makes you more scared of it in the long run. Watch yourself in a mirror as you talk, by yourself and then with another person present. Exactly what do you do, what do you look like, when you stutter that you don't do or look like when not stuttering? Listen to yourself on a tape recorder. Exactly what do you do, what do you sound like, when stuttering? What behaviors do you most want to change? How well do other people agree with your observations and conclusions? Talk with others about your stuttering, get their opinions, compare notes. Keep talking and observing; build up a back log of realistic information.

In confronting your problem you are already doing something very significant to reduce it. You are carrying out positive, planned action and this in and of itself diminishes anxiety and frustration, and increases confidence, morale and optimism. Keep in mind that your feelings and behavior are changed by what you do much more than they are changed by what you wish, dream or say about them. Words may guide action, but it's the action that produces results. And why you do something can be as important, or more important, than what you do. A behavior that you perform deliberately, for a planned, constructive purpose, may appear to an observer to be the same behavior that you performed when scared and out of control, but the results for you will be far different. So you are carrying out a program of actions that you can do (not always easily!) that will surely, by degrees, achieve your goal. Your courageous self-confrontation activities not only give you information, "feedback," about your stuttering problem, but they also strengthen your non-avoidance attitude which is vitally necessary to your success.

You do not like your stuttering and its real or imagined social consequences, so it is natural to try to avoid it. At times you may totally avoid it by choosing to be absent or by withdrawing from a speaking situation, or while speaking you may substitute a non-feared word (one on which you do not expect to stutter) for a feared one. This allows you to escape for the moment, but increases your worry about future situations.

And what happens at the actual moment of stuttering, how do you react to the sudden feeling of blockage, paralysis? You may have a fairly simple, straightforward pattern of stuttering, or you may instantly swing into a tense performance of struggle behaviors--you know what they are from your self-observations. You are struggling to be fluent, to avoid stuttering. These struggle behaviors are what other people see and hear--as your stuttering! You have sabotaged, double-crossed yourself. Your pattern of stuttering behavior consists of the things you are doing to avoid stuttering. How does that grab you? It's a pretty basic idea. Mull it over a bit.

You feel that these behaviors are inevitable, necessary to "get the word out." They aren't. They are tricks, behaviors you learned in the past in your desperate efforts to cope with your stuttering-feeling. They became habitual, and now they are on a hair-trigger. The slightest expectation of imminent stuttering, and bang, you set them off--though you may feel that "they set themselves off." Quite likely you feel helpless, victimized, trapped by your own stuttering behavior. The fact is that you can begin to do things to convince yourself that you can control your behavior. Perhaps slowly and gradually, with many ups and downs, but it can be done. I don't promise you a rose garden or instant happiness by pill or powder. You are dealing with a whole set of learned feelings and behaviors, but you can learn better ones.

You must accept the idea that much, if not all, of your stuttering behavior consists of your tense struggles to avoid stuttering and its consequences. It follows that this tension as manifested in your struggling is the thing you have to reduce. It's a seeming paradox: to become more fluent, you must tolerate imperfections in speech; you must avoid avoidance behaviors and feelings. You cannot suddenly stop all stuttering, and you don't want to continue stuttering the way you have been doing. You must compromise, accept the best middle course. You must practice and learn ways of reacting to your stuttering-feelings ( the anxiety, tension and frustration you feel immediately before stuttering or as you begin to stutter) that show yourself and others that you understand the nature of your problem, that you are meeting that problem with honesty and courage, and that you are actively doing something to help yourself. You respect and admire anyone who handles a personal problem in this way. How do you think others will feel about you?

Instead of your old tense struggling you need behaviors which don't try for impossibly perfect fluency, but which do lead to good feelings of control, confidence, self-respect, decreased anxiety and frustration, which interfere less with communication and are more acceptable to you and your listener. So here they are. No trick, gimmicks, secret recipes, instant cures. Just voluntary modifications of speech behaviors that will help you do what needs to be done.


Do not change your usual rate of speaking unless you really speak too fast to be understood (very few people do). Leave your non-stuttered speech alone. But when you start to tense up and stutter, at that instant shift into slow motion. Don't give up your speech effort, but try to do everything easily, gently, slowly. Relax, let go, keep your lips, tongue and jaw moving without jamming. Don't panic, take all the time you need and then some, keep things moving slowly, keep your confidence, don't buckle, keep going forward slowly but positively, absolutely resist any feeling of hurry or pressure. Let 'em wait. At some critical point in time--a second or less, two seconds, ten seconds or more--you will suddenly know you're over the hump. You feel your tension drain away, your confidence surges back, and you simply finish that word and keep talking along normal speed until you start to tense up for another bout of stuttering. Then you instantly shift into slow motion again.

Many stutterers who originally had very tense, complex patterns of stuttering have worked themselves down to this easy, simple, slow stuttering with little tension or interruption in their speech.


A slight variation of the above. When you start to tense up at the beginning of a word, or find yourself suddenly caught in the middle of stuttering with a fixed position of your lips, tongue or jaw (your mouth may be wide open or you may be jamming your lips together), stop struggling at that instant - don't try to change any position, don't move - hold everything as is until you feel your tension start to fade. Keep the sound going, or gently re-initiate the sound you wanted to make, and make absolutely no effort to finish the word until perhaps a second after you can. Then finish the word naturally and keep on talking. The deliberate delay in finishing the word, even after your tension has subsided is simply to convince yourself that you are not the helpless victim of your panicky desire to force the word out just as quickly as possible. Instead, you are deliberately taking control of the situation, manipulating the behavior that has always seemed to be out of control. The deliberate prolongation of a sound can take place at the beginning of a word, or anywhere within a word - where ever and whenever you experience a sudden surge of tension that seems to leave you frozen with panic and frustration. Keep the speech posture and the sound going until you feel your tension drain away, hold it for another moment, then finish the word.

To strengthen your overall feeling of non-avoidance of stuttering, of doing something active to conquer you fears, it's a good idea now and then to deliberately prolong the initial sound of a word on which you didn't expect to stutter anyway, a non-feared word. Even a very brief, almost a split-second, prolongation will do the trick. You're proving something to yourself.


At the first feeling of tension and struggle, say only the first sound or syllable of the word easily and lightly, and repeat it a few times until you feel relaxed and confident, then finish the word. "Please pass the sa-sa-sa-salt." If you start to tense up while repeating the sound or syllable, try to relax and let go again and keep the repetition going until all tension drains away, then toss in one or two more relaxed repetitions just to show you're in control before you finish the word. Remember, this is not real stuttering, which is tense, struggling, out-of-control behavior. This is calm, relaxed, controlled, deliberate disfluency, a means of dissipating your tense, panicky feelings of impending stuttering.

This is a more open, aggressive type of "substitute stuttering" than the preceding techniques. As with the other behaviors, however, do not use this deliberate repetition as a desperate, last ditch effort to escape or avoid real stuttering. It should not be a crutch, a gimmick. Try to perform it with full willingness to display your disfluency, easily, simply, and whole-heartedly. And try not to fall into stereotyped, rhythmic patterns of repetitions, which can become just another increasingly-tense avoidance behavior. You should use no fixed number of repetitions on each stuttered word. Simply repeat the sound or syllable as many times as needed to feel relaxed, plus perhaps one or two more, then finish the word.

Like deliberate prolongations, repetitions may also be performed now and then at the beginning of non-feared words. This helps you get used to doing it, and helps you confront and reduce your resistance to stuttering.


Occasionally when you stutter on a word, really mess up, and don't seem to be able to do anything about it at the moment, go ahead and stutter your way through it. Then, when you complete the word, stop-resist the tremendous urge to keep talking and to pretend that your stuttering never happened. You need to confront the fact that it did happen. Go back and say the word over again, and again, and again, and more times if necessary until you say it easily and naturally with no tension. Then keep on talking. This leaves you with a feeling of success, of having done something positive to conquer your fear and avoidance of stuttering.

This technique is based on the fact that very often a stuttered word, when repeated immediately, will not be stuttered the second or third time. It is not necessary to use this technique on every stuttered word in a conversation, although it could be done. This is another good, overt, aggressive means of strengthening confrontation, non-avoidance tendencies. When you repeat the word, after having stuttered on it, you may simply say the word over and over until you say it fluently, or you may say it with deliberate repetition of the initial sound, or deliberate prolongation.

I want to stress an important point about all of these voluntary modifications of stuttering behavior. They are "mechanically" simple; they don't require the complex skills of playing a piano or flying an airplane. In that sense there's nothing much to learn. However, they are difficult to perform in direct proportion to the amount of anxiety (panic, impatience, tension, hatred of stuttering) that you are feeling at the moment. Whenever your anxiety or "resistance" is too great at the moment of performance, you will not be able voluntarily to do any of these things, and you'll just go into your usual pattern of tense stuttering. Furthermore, at any instant during a deliberate repetition or prolongation--at least until you have gained confidence in these behaviors - your anxiety and tension may suddenly increase and start to throw you into real stuttering. When this happens, try to shift gears back again to "slow and easy," keep going, don't panic, and slowly prolong or repeat your way out of the tension.

In learning and practicing these behavior modifications, as in everything you do in working on your stuttering problem, you should proceed from easier tasks and situations to harder ones. Begin by practicing each of these techniques in the easiest, least-threatening situation for you -- either when alone or with someone else, and with or without a mirror and tape recorder for visual and auditory "feedback." Approach them with a good "preparatory set" - a feeling of calm confidence and relaxation. The doing of them may feel strange at first, but keep in mind why you are doing them, and with continued practice you will do them more easily, naturally, and successfully. Always resist the urge to hurry, to pop the word out as quickly as possible. Panic, tension, and an overwhelming urgency are the hallmarks of stuttering; they are what you must overcome.

As you practice these behaviors, concentrate on what is going on around your mouth. Try to keep your general tension low enough so that you are able to eliminate any behaviors you may have that are not directly related to speaking - shutting your eyes, jerking your head, clenching your fists, etc.

Practice each of these things at least a few minutes every day, the more the better. If your real stuttering pattern is already fairly simple, consisting of relatively brief repetitions and/or prolongations uncomplicated by tense struggling behaviors, it may be that "slow stuttering" is about all you need to get the job done. You will have to judge that for yourself, based on all the knowledge you have about your stuttering. Sooner or later you will begin to decide which of these behaviors best serves to give you a feeling of ease and confidence in speech, reducing your tensions and your urge to fight your stuttering. You may find that some mixture of the techniques works best for you, depending on what you are saying, to whom, in what speaking situations, and so on. I would recommend the almost constant use of a tape recorder. There's nothing like being able to hear your own speech to decide objectively what you do and don't like about it, and to judge the changes that you make as you practice. On separate index cards, list various speaking situation in which you fear stuttering. Arrange these cards in order, from least-feared to most-feared situations. As you gain confidence in your modified stuttering techniques, try them in one or two of your least-feared situations. When you have successful experiences in them move on to a slightly more feared situation, and so on. These cards give you a guide to progress in self-therapy.

Keep in mind that you are working toward more normal fluency, with all of its imperfections. In your struggles as a stutterer, you may not have noticed that "normal" speakers are far from perfect. Nearly everyone has many kinds of disfluencies in his speech which go unnoticed because the speaker is not struggling against them: occasional hesitations, repetitions, extra sounds, and so on. Also, don't imagine that all of your non-stuttering problems will automatically be solved in direct proportion to your increasing fluency. Sure, it's more fun not to stutter, but normal fluency does not bring miracles--ask the nonstutterers around you!

Above all, keep in mind that the less you struggle in your efforts not to stutter, the less you will stutter. You do not become fluent by fighting desperately to be fluent. This is what stutterers spend a great deal of time and energy doing, and this is probably the biggest reason why they continue to stutter. In this sense, fluency comes in the back door. It is a by-product of your really not caring whether you are fluent or not. You will steadily improve in the desired ways as you carry out your new speech behaviors in more and more situations, so they become increasingly automatic and integrated into your day-to-day living.

The only "secret" to all this is the attitude of active non-avoidance of all the things you fear about your stuttering, and active practice of the desired alternative attitudes and behaviors. The next time you are tempted to substitute a non-feared word for a feared one, or to escape a feared speaking situation, try not to. You may stutter on the feared word, or in the feared situation, but in the long run - after many such words and situations - you will be much less fearful of stuttering.

In all your self-therapy, develop an attitude of "flexible determination." Try hard to do what you know is right, but don't be too tense and up-tight about it. That can spoil the fun, and leads to frustration and demoralization. You will have "bad days," temporary setbacks and "failures" for all sorts of reasons. Take them in your stride. They're ancient history as soon as they have happened. Forget them. It is a good idea to compensate for them by doing something else that represents a victory over your fear of stuttering. Try to make the desired feelings and behaviors a part of your life, but don't stone yourself to death. Life is to be lived. Enjoy it. Keep your long-range perspective.

It's not a matter of luck. You make your own "luck." You can get there.

added with permission September 5, 2008